Archive | May 2011

DailyPrompt Drabble: Stepping around.

From [community profile] dailyprompt and Stranded World.

It had the feel of an optical illusion, this party. People moved around in that way that they do, chatting, sliding from grouping to grouping, finger foods to drinks to bathroom to the best jokes. They moved as if everything was normal.

Autumn, in the center of the party through no volition of her own, tried to mimic their movements, tried to ignore the niggling feeling that she didn’t belong here. Of all her siblings, why did it have to be her? Summer was an actress; she could fake this better. Spring, Spring loved being in the middle of the hoity-toity, the rich, the well-bred. And Winter was implacable. But here she was, Autumn, the gypsy artist, the vagabond with the wind-blown hair, trying to pretend she belonged.

She’d been invited, of course, or she probably wouldn’t have made it through the front door. Her younger sisters had consulted on her outfit, and she looked as if her dress, at least belonged. Since the dress looked like it belonged to her, the illusion seemed to pass: this dress passes muster, thus its wearer must as well. And she’d kept the ink to a bare minimum for the occasion.

All of that, and she’d still expected to be awkward, unhappy, and uncomfortable. She hadn’t expected, quite, to be invisible, but that was how she found herself, passed over by dozens of people who, it seemed, all knew each other. It galled a bit, enough that she took a quick five minutes in the bathroom to scrub off the nothing strange to see here she’d drawn over her heart.

That didn’t seem to do it – and, as she circled the room again, Autumn realized there was something else going on, something beyond her own class-conscious insecurities. The guests weren’t just ignoring her. They were milling, walking around the room like everything was normal, but there was something in the center of the room that they were just ignoring. She, she realized, was ignoring it as well; no matter how hard she peered, she couldn’t quite see it. It was like the old saw about addiction being an elephant in the middle of the living room: Everyone moved around it, but nobody mentioned it.

But it didn’t seem like anyone could even see the elephant (or maybe they could, and she was just not a part enough of their crowd).

prompt: “can you not see the elephant?”
Not really done, but a fun intro



This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/47745.html. You can comment here or there.

FaeApoc/MoarPlease – Invisibles

This is the first half of a semi-sequel to Discovery Channel

The supply trucks had stopped coming around the first of the year; the TV broadcasts had more or less stopped around Thanksgiving time, and the radio broadcasts were getting rarer and rarer, so the fae residents-slash-captives of the “voluntary relocation center” (internment camp) didn’t get an explanation as to why they were abandoned; the food just stopped coming.

At first, they assumed that the remnants of the human government were trying to quietly get them rid of, and shrugged philosophically. They’d been expecting that for a while, after all, and they had their gardens and their little farm already. They’d be a bit short on some more exotic foods for a while, but they were magic beings; they’d make do.

Weeks went on, though, and the mood of the guards that still patrolled the halls of their former-high-school prison shifted. They stopped eying their captives with belligerent fear and began eying the livestock in the courtyards and the greenhouse with the overwintered vegetables with obvious hunger. They talked, when they didn’t think any of the internees could hear them, about their hungry families and the paychecks that didn’t come anymore. They talked about how the monsters in here were safer than their own children were.

Finally, Dita, called the Riddle of the Sphinx, who had ended up being their leader by inevitability and force of will, pulled the guards aside and suggested they just move their families into the compound. “They’ll be safe here,” she assured them, “and we have food to spare.”

The guards hemmed and hawed – they were supposed to be guarding the internees, not fraternizing with them, not locking themselves in, too – but their so-very-friendly prisoners had the magic to make food grow faster and produce more than it ought to, and the walls around their internment camp were high and sturdy. In the end, hunger and a continually deteriorating situation outside won over fear. Their guards became their companions, and they locked the gates from the inside.

That had been mid-February. When the flowers started coming up in earnest, some time in early May, radio broadcasts had trickled down to maybe one a week, there was wheat growing on the rooftops, and something was horribly wrong in the halls of their camp.

At first, they thought one of them had gone stir-crazy. They’d been in this prison for over two years now, in conditions that, while not crowded, were nowhere near ideal. That none of them had gone off the deep end yet was more surprising than that someone had finally cracked.

It was a pretty bad crack, too; people went missing, first one, then two more, and then another three. By the time the three had gone missing, the first one to vanish had been discovered, so very very dead, the dismembered, desiccated, mummified parts spread over the playground. It was the sort of death only another one of them could pull off, at least that quickly, that efficiently. They started eyeing each other with distrust, travelling only in groups, and making locks for their doors and walls to put locks in. The barracks became a warren of tiny, dark, locked rooms… and still people vanished.

They had the magic, in their group, to read minds, too, three mind-readers. Dita set her foot down, and the mind-readers read each other’s minds, then set up a double-elimination queue to find their murderer.

Cynthia, the most junior of the mind-readers, tried hard not to think about some of the things she’d found her fellow inmates to be guilty of. Not this string of murders, no – she found not the slightest shred of evidence that anyone here had even witnessed anything related to these deaths. But there was a lot of untidiness in these minds. There were tiny peccadilloes and crimes that would be felonies, if human law still cared about them, guilty consciences and sordid desires. Some of it was really, really creepy.

By the time she reached the last person, her friend Aaron, she was ready to destroy large portions of her mind just to get rid of the slimy memories. The walls around their prison had never seemed so constraining. And she had never been less happy to see Aaron.

“How’s it going, Synthie?” He plopped down in the comfy, ratty armchair she was using as an interrogation seat and grinned at her, only the off-skew cant of one ear suggesting he was at all worried.

“Urgh.” She wrinkled her nose at him. “I don’t want to know what’s in your brain, Airhead. It had better be just air and stuffing…”

“Or what? You’re too good a person to cut out the parts you don’t like.”

“I swear, if I find anything in your mind that I don’t want to see, Aaron, I’m…”

He was out of his chair with his hand over her mouth before she could finish the sentence. “You know better, Synth… Cynthia,” he whispered urgently, his cobalt-blue eyes staring at her. “You’re tired, and they forgot to feed you, here,” he pressed a cookie into her hand while she stared in worried confusion at him. “You’re not going to like everything in my brain,” he explained quietly, and comprehension finally worked its way through her exhausted mind. She nodded, and he removed his hand.

“Sorry,” she muttered, and devoured the cookie. I swear were words one didn’t say casually; that she’d forgotten enough to slip was an indication of how worn out she was. “Well… let’s hope there’s not too much in there, okay? I really want to bleach my brain out.”

“That bad?” He sounded worried. That, in itself, was worrisome; Aaron never showed concern.

“That bad,” she agreed quietly. “Let me get this over with, please?” There, let him chew on that; she never said please.

“Okay,” he agreed quietly, and leaned back in the chair, closing his eyes. “Do your worst.”

It couldn’t be him. She shouldn’t even look. But what if it was? If she trusted friendship and doomed them all? She closed her eyes, too, pretended this was someone else, and murmured the Working that would let her read his mind.

Don’t let Synthie see what she doesn’t want to see was at the forefront of his mind, fences neatly lined up, pointing her towards hey, about those murders? I didn’t do them. He was anxious, little bits in the back of his mind dancing around. Her threat had worried him; more than that, the drawn, tired way she looked worried him. Is she okay? Is she going to forgive me for…

She knew better, but she poked a little bit, telling herself she needed to find out for certain that he wasn’t the murderer. …forgive me, no, not there, ack, PORN! His mind flashed naked cat-girls in improbable positions, and she reeled backwards, falling off her chair.

“Synth?” She was still far enough inside his consciousness that she could hear his worry and guilt as he scrambled onto the floor next to her. “Synth… Cynthia, damn, sorry, are you okay?” C’mon, be okay. Be okay and don’t poke anymore, please? Stupid murderer. Messing up our friendship.

She shook her head carefully. “Airhead, if you ever assault me with porn again…” She made sure to make the not-a-threat cheerful, and tried to stifle the headache that wanted to leak out.

He flushed. “It’s the mind-blanking technique they taught us, you know… pink horses.”

“Purple elephants,” she nodded, but this time, let the exasperation leak. “Airhead, you’re not supposed to be blocking my mind-reading. You’re supposed to be proving your innocence.”

“Synthie, if you don’t already know I’m innocent, you’re not going to find it in my brain. Look, this was a nice idea, but if it’s not any of us… doesn’t it occur to you that that’s even worse?”

“Worse?” She blinked at him. “Worse than being trapped in her with a monster?”

“That’s how the guards feel all the time, isn’t it? What I mean is… we know each other. We know our flaws and our powers and everything else, every one of us. We’re too close not to. But if something managed to sneak in here with us and remain hidden, except to pop out and kill us…”

“We’re dealing with a completely unknown, invisible enemy.” Cynthia gulped. “Okay. That is pretty bad.” She chewed on her cuticle, nevermind what her mother would say. “Aaron, what do we do about something we can’t see?” Why was she asking him?

“Well,” he mused, “we have to find a way to make the invisible visible.”

[community profile] dailyprompt ‘making the invisible visible,’ just a little late. This one didn’t want to get written, hence posting half</i.

This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/47613.html. You can comment here or there.

Ants, Grasshoppers, Magpies.

From dailyprompt: “The future is now,” misc. post-apoc, well, apoc, the same setting and Foundation as The Cathedral (LJ Link) but some time earlier and from a different POV.

The future is now. We spent our whole lives, as our parents and grandparents and so on did, planning for the future, building the world around us as best we could, “giving back to the community,” the way people would have said a year or two ago, building up our own fortunes only to carry others along with us, in the best tradition of charity and, at the same time, in the best paths of cleaning up your own backyard first. That is: we made sure we were well off, that our neighbors were comfortable, that those in our town weren’t going hungry, and that those in our county did not starve.

And amid all that nest-feathering, we put away for a rainy day, planned for a dry season, put a little of our wealth aside in jars in the back yard and boxes under the mattress; we squirreled away supplies and never threw anything at all out that we or our descendants might use.

We were the world’s biggest pack rats, saving everything we could get our paws on in case of a long, cold winter.

And now? Now we’ve reached that winter. We’ve come to that point we were reaching for, our family, our Foundation, our mandate. And here I am, ankle deep in paperwork while outside our gates, our neighbors risk starving. And the biggest argument I’m having with the rest of the family?

Not how much should we share?. That would make sense. But can we dig into the supplies now, so that we have something to share with those who have not saved?

Ants, grasshoppers, snakes and scorpions. We talk about animals, but no-one is brave enough to say magpie while we cling to our shiny things, merely because they’re shiny.

This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/47326.html. You can comment here or there.

Draaaagons and Alt Worlds

[personal profile] meeks has cleaned up her dragons picture from sketch fest. Take a look!!

(LJ Link)

If you haven’t checked out [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith‘s Schrodinger’s Heroes fics/scripts, you really ought to. The idea is awesome, and one I’m thinking of duplicating.

This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/47062.html. You can comment here or there.

15-minute ficlet: Slurry

Originally posted here in response to the prompt “slurry.”

A slurry is, in general, a thick suspension of solids in a liquid. So sayeth the great online wikipedia, at least.

I’d seen slurries. In my line of work, they came up now and then, which is to say, all the fucking time. Concrete. Explosives. The gook they used to process ceramics. The stuff they fed us and called meat. Solids suspended in liquid.

And then there was this. Solids, more or less, as much as humans are solid (if meat slurry has solids, then humans count, too), suspended in the water, or at least, we were going to call it water for the moment. Liquid, at least, and people jammed so close together that they really couldn’t drown; there was no room to move downwards, any more than in any other direction.

I was glad I wasn’t in it, I can tell you, that was my absolute first thought there. My second thought was damn, this looks like a bad Simpsons episode. But all the while I was working on problem three – how do I get this mess of people out of the water before their fucked-up surface tension breaks and they all go sloop down the drain like leftovers during a clean-up? Assuming there’s a drain, of course, but this looked like a giant, giant bathtub. Reason said there was, somewhere, a drain.

Pulling the plug would be one solution, but that would mean I’d have to find the plug, and chances were, it was under that mass of bodies, under the human slurry. No, I was going to have to find a way to break their surface tension without sending them all drowning, and yank them all out of the basin.

Never mind how they got in there… I’d worry about that once I got them out. Surface tension. Surface tension. There was a reason my mind kept coming back to that, there had to be. I might be pretty dumb but my brain is pretty smart, after all.

Soap!

Soap, silly string, bubbles, yes, that would work. It didn’t hurt, of course, that the victim of this mess closest to me was a gorgeous brunette wearing not quite enough clothing; thinking about her all slicked down in suds was a fun two seconds of diversion.

Soap. I ran for the tanker truck we’d been using for the really weird plaster cast project. The soap solution there would coat everything it touched, and it wasn’t quickly water-soluble. It would stick to skin like nobody’s business, which is what I wanted for step one.

I sprayed that stuff over the whole mess of them, that’s it, yup, drenched the thousands of them in glycerine solution (thank god for the really powerful sprayer and customers with weird tastes). And while I was doing that, Joe, my foreman, he grabs the girl next to the hot brunette, and pops her out, Pop!, like a cork while he dumps in the readycrete in the spot she vacated.

That stuff hardens in less than five minutes, but it won’t get close to the soap stuff. Before anyone could drown, the whole mess of them were standing on solid ground.

Then all I had to do was track someone down and find out who had turned the middle of the city into a giant bathtub, and what they wanted to do about me having turned their ‘tub into a skate park.

This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/46830.html. You can comment here or there.

Daily Prompt: The Cathedral

I’ve had the world’s slowest week of writing. I.e., this is almost all I’ve written, all week, and it’s 686 words. That’s like 1/10 of my normal weekly wordcount.

From [community profile] dailyprompt: “preparing for change,” and “cathedral of data.” It’s misc. post-apoc, based on a Gehenna(*) cult idea I’ve had running in my head for 10 or 20 years.

They had built it, and they had come. The movie misquote was long past archaic by this point, but Tess still found herself thinking it when she stared out over the ramparts and towers of The Library. They had, before the disaster that had ruined their world, designed this place, built it and fortified it and stocked it.

It hadn’t been that they had known the disaster was coming, she assumed (fifteen years old when the world had collapsed, she hadn’t been consulted on the decades of preparation that had led to the library), so much as that they were, by their charter, always planning for change.

So they had built this, The Library, an academy, a town within walls, a cathedral of data. They had built a storage place for all of the knowledge of the world as they knew it, and done everything they could to keep it safe.

Sometimes Tess wondered what the Founders had been planning for. Change, of course. The entire mandate and charter of their foundation was “to prepare for the smoothest transition in times of change.” But that left open a whole realm of things, from a governmental shift of power to a world-ending cataclysm. Had they really expected this?

Expected or not, she could find no fault with their planning. Inside their fortress, they were safe, they were warm in winter and cool in summer, well-fed and well-clothed. Inside the Library, they educated generations of children and young adults, preserving knowledge that would otherwise have been lost, and, through their students, spreading that information across the continent. They had, for their small corner of the world, held off another Dark Age, through their vigilance and preparation.

The job, however, wasn’t over. There was no end point on the foundation’s charter, and the world did not stop changing just because most of the major governments had fallen. And Tess, who had been running the Library and the foundation for longer than she had been alive when the world had ended, who could barely remember what things had been like under a continent-spanning government, found herself second-guessing her predecessors’ plans.

She walked from the high wall down to the main hall of the library, nodding politely at the students as she went. In their comfortable, warm, wooly robes (the sheep and goats, too, lived within the fortress), they looked like a woodcut of medieval monks. And that, Tess believed, was the problem.

It wasn’t that the founders hadn’t planned well; their preparations were impeccable. Tess cringed to think of the billions of dollars, the thousands of man-hours, that had gone into the Library project, resources that the founders had had to burn, that she no longer had. They had built to last, and it had worked.

But what they had built, that was the problem. They had built a temple of knowledge, a chapel with the information of those-who-had-come-before as their god, and students came to worship it, to soak up the knowledge and spread the word of the founders far and wide. It staved off a Dark Age, yes, but what did it leave in its place?

Tess had a feeling, a vague one but supported by research, that there ought to be innovation. People ought to be striving to find new things, create new things, invent new things. People ought to be trying to do what had never been done before, and instead, they were simply retreading old ground. Stagnating. Not falling into barbarism, but not growing, either.

Maybe, she wondered, staring at her robed students, their pens scratching on their paper (both made here, as well as the ink) as they researched the work of long-dead scientists from long-destroyed places, maybe the purpose of a catastrophe was like winter for the trees: a chance to rest, a chance to reset. Maybe by fooling the order of things, the foundation had taken away a necessary step of human evolution.

And maybe they had just slowed it. Change was coming; Tess could feel it in her bones. It was their job to be prepared for it, that was all.

* Okay, “apocalypse.” Onceuponatime, when I played VampireLARP, E.Mc played a character in a Gehenna cult bloodline (Gehenna is the vampires’ end time in World of Darkness), so the phrase always wants to be Gehenna cult in my mind.

This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/46569.html. You can comment here or there.

Challenge!!

[community profile] dailyprompt posts a weekly summary of stories written to that week’s prompts.

This is the summary of stories written to the 4/17-4/23 prompts

So I challenge all y’all, this week, to click into [community profile] dailyprompt, write something to a prompt, and post it (It helps if you also then reply to the prompt posting and let them know, too).

Edited to add:

The week beginning 4/24 is all me, too…

This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/45923.html. You can comment here or there.